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Patents, SpaceX and foreign countries
Old 03-26-2013, 09:36 AM   #1
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Patents, SpaceX and foreign countries

Today the Dragon spacecraft will leave the ISS and head back to Earth. Assuming all goes well, this will be another triumph for SpaceX, now the only organization that can transport large amounts of cargo to and from the ISS.

What is interesting is that SpaceX does not patent its technology. They fear that foreign countries will copy their discoveries. And legal remedies against foreign powers are impotent in most cases.

Here is the article:

Intellectual property: Can you keep a secret? | The Economist

Question: Are cheaper consumer goods to high a price to pay for having our discoveries and ideas stolen? Often in addition to lousy working conditions for men, women and children?
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Old 03-26-2013, 10:05 AM   #2
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1. IMHO, Musk is just trying to increase the "perceived" value of his company, just like with the yesterday's twitter message about Tesla.

2. ATV (still in production till 2014) can carry nearly 3 times more cargo than Dragon to ISS. Shuttle was able to carry & return much bigger cargo than Dragon in the past as well.

But the more appropriate question to ask is "why would SpaceX need to patent its discoveries?". What commercial companies would be considered its competitors? There is only 1 - Orbital, which is also working on a resupply spacecraft for NASA.
Companies file patents in order to protect their IP from other companies. But SpaceX does not have commercial competitors that it needs to protect IP from. So, it does not have a need to file patents.
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Old 03-26-2013, 10:27 AM   #3
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AFAIK Russia has rockets we can use to resupply the station and other purposes. Pretty cheap and effective.
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Old 03-26-2013, 11:37 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by hsv_climber View Post

2. ATV (still in production till 2014) can carry nearly 3 times more cargo than Dragon to ISS. Shuttle was able to carry & return much bigger cargo than Dragon in the past as well.

But the more appropriate question to ask is "why would SpaceX need to patent its discoveries?". What commercial companies would be considered its competitors? There is only 1 - Orbital, which is also working on a resupply spacecraft for NASA.
My comment on the dragon space craft was that it is the only vehicle capable of carrying large amounts of cargo to and FROM the ISS. Other vehicles can carry cargo to the ISS, but they cannot return cargo to Earth. They burn up in the atmosphere upon reentry. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Russian spacecraft have the same problem, they cannot return large amounts of cargo safely to Earth.

As far as the shuttle is concerned, try booking a cargo flight on it for the future. You will have a serious problem since they no longer are flying.

It is not commercial companies that SpaceX and others are worried about, it is other nations.
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Old 03-26-2013, 11:48 AM   #5
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"Trade secrets" have been around a long time as an alternative to patents, and have some legal standing as well. Companies can decide whether that or a patent is best for them. These days, with many people not respecting IP rights, keeping things a trade secret might be appropriate.

One of the things our patent lawers always considered was how we would know if a competitor was using our patent. If you can't really tell, by examination or behavior, that your patent is being ripped off, you're probably better off just keeping the idea secret instead of publishing it in the open as a patent.
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Old 03-26-2013, 01:01 PM   #6
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Russian spacecraft have the same problem, they cannot return large amounts of cargo safely to Earth.
Progress can return cargo safely to Earth. Progress can also bring a slightly bigger payload (depending on the configuration) than Dragon to ISS.

Bigger question to ask is why would you need to return a large amount of cargo to Earth? You might need to return the results of some experiments occasionally (very light payload). But that is about it.
The rest is a marketing gimmick by SpaceX, which has not been tested anyway. Dragon is not coming back with the full advertised return payload this time.

Quote:
As far as the shuttle is concerned, try booking a cargo flight on it for the future. You will have a serious problem since they no longer are flying.
But your OP is talking about patents. I was pointing out that what Dragon is doing today has been already accomplished 30 years ago.
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Old 03-26-2013, 01:49 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hsv_climber View Post
1
But the more appropriate question to ask is "why would SpaceX need to patent its discoveries?". What commercial companies would be considered its competitors? There is only 1 - Orbital, which is also working on a resupply spacecraft for NASA.
Companies file patents in order to protect their IP from other companies. But SpaceX does not have commercial competitors that it needs to protect IP from. So, it does not have a need to file patents.
Space X does have competitors, Boeing and Lockheed are both in the commercial spacecraft business. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is also a potential competitor.
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Old 03-26-2013, 03:05 PM   #8
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Progress can return cargo safely to Earth. Progress can also bring a slightly bigger payload (depending on the configuration) than Dragon to ISS.
I'm not as familiar with the Progress, but what I've read has said nothing about its being reuseable. Wiki describes it as an "expendable freighter spacecraft":
Quote:
There are three to four flights of the Progress spacecraft to the ISS per year. Each spacecraft remains docked until shortly before the new one, or a Soyuz (which uses the same docking ports) arrives. Then it is filled with waste, disconnected, deorbited, and destroyed in the atmosphere.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progress_(spacecraft)
My understanding of reuseable spacecraft is that, like the Space Shuttle, after returning to earth, they can be launched & used again.

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Old 03-26-2013, 03:12 PM   #9
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Space X does have competitors, Boeing and Lockheed are both in the commercial spacecraft business. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is also a potential competitor.
Well, as I recall the previous SpaceX mission was loaded with stuff that NASA wanted back on Earth. So why didn't they use a Progress spacecraft or one of the others? As far as other companies are concerned, so far, none have done what SpaceX has done again today. Has Progress picked up material from the ISS and returned it lately? What about vehicles from Boeing or Lockheed? Has Branson put one vehicle into Earth orbit yet?

Don't get me wrong. I hope we have many options for near Earth space travel, but the simple fact is since the end of the Shuttle missions only SpaceX (with a lot of help from NASA) has managed to bring things to the ISS and also back from the ISS.

I can see why corporations are hesitant to patent advances. I doubt if they want to see their discoveries copied like a bunch of movie DVD's in countries where intellectual property is not protected.
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Old 03-26-2013, 03:17 PM   #10
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The rest is a marketing gimmick by SpaceX, which has not been tested anyway. Dragon is not coming back with the full advertised return payload this time.
I don't understand what has not been tested. A marketing gimmick? SpaceX?
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Old 03-26-2013, 04:00 PM   #11
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I'm not as familiar with the Progress, but what I've read has said nothing about its being reuseable. Wiki describes it as an "expendable freighter spacecraft":

My understanding of reuseable spacecraft is that, like the Space Shuttle, after returning to earth, they can be launched & used again.

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Who cares either it is reusable or expendable?
"reusable" was a Space Shuttle feature to sell to Congress to get the funding. NASA has quickly realized that it would cost more to have a reusable spacecraft than building a new expendable one for every mission. But it was too late and too political.
It has cost a fortune to re-tile and re-certify each "reusable" spacecraft. NASA's newest spacecraft (Orion) is not going to be reusable (although, there are some claims about "partial reusable").
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Old 03-26-2013, 04:10 PM   #12
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I should add in recent interviews Elon has said the main reason that Space X hasn't bothered to patent its invention is that he view his primary competitors are sovereign states and that patent enforcement against say a Iran, or China would be really difficult.
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Old 03-26-2013, 04:16 PM   #13
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Yes, the Shuttle never had the economies that were promised for it. And it took a lot longer to turn around the vehicle for the next launch than NASA envisioned. However, it's worst problem was that the crew was no longer at the top of the stack, above the explosive parts of the vehicle. Instead they were right next to them. This made it impossible to quickly blast the occupants away from a vehicle that was in serious trouble.
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Old 03-26-2013, 04:19 PM   #14
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Well, as I recall the previous SpaceX mission was loaded with stuff that NASA wanted back on Earth. So why didn't they use a Progress spacecraft or one of the others? As far as other companies are concerned, so far, none have done what SpaceX has done again today. Has Progress picked up material from the ISS and returned it lately? What about vehicles from Boeing or Lockheed? Has Branson put one vehicle into Earth orbit yet?
Yes, Progress-M has/had Raduga module, which could be used to return materials to Earth.
The answer to your other questions is very simple - because Musk was able to get the funding from NASA to do it and others (including Progress) did not.

Speaking of Boeing... It has a spacecraft, X-37B (google it), which can take materials to space and bring them back. But it is classified and the info about the size of the payload is classified as well.
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Old 03-26-2013, 04:37 PM   #15
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Yes, the X-37B is a very interesting vehicle to say the least.

I got this from Wikipedia. If is is not correct, please let me know.

Quote:
Each spacecraft remains docked until shortly before the new one, or a Soyuz (which uses the same docking ports) arrives. Then it is filled with waste, disconnected, deorbited, and destroyed in the atmosphere.
Getting back to the original intent of the thread, I am wondering what people think about doing business with countries that steal our technology. I wonder if that makes sense in such a competitive global economy. OTOH, perhaps the net benefits are worth it.
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Old 03-27-2013, 03:15 AM   #16
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Who cares either it is reusable or expendable?
Anyone who wants cargo (including people) returned safely to Earth. If it's expendable, it's burning up in the atmosphere - not "return[ing] cargo safely to Earth".

I see from a subsequent post that there is a module that will do that, but I don't know offhand how its 150KG payload capacity compares with payload capacities of SpaceX modules -- have to look into that, but there appears to be some tradeoff.

Quote:
Use of the Raduga reduces Progress-M's cargo capacity by about 100 kg, to a maximum of about 2400 kg.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VBK-Raduga
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Old 03-27-2013, 09:33 AM   #17
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Anyone who wants cargo (including people) returned safely to Earth. If it's expendable, it's burning up in the atmosphere - not "return[ing] cargo safely to Earth".

I see from a subsequent post that there is a module that will do that, but I don't know offhand how its 150KG payload capacity compares with payload capacities of SpaceX modules -- have to look into that, but there appears to be some tradeoff.

I don't have a dog in this hunt.... but I think that there is a disconnect on this discussion... and I think you are missing the middle ground...

IOW, a spacecraft can be reusable, which to me means one it comes down it can be sent up again...

Another is expendable... which means once it comes down, it can not (or will not) be used again... all manned space flight prior to the shuttle fit into this category... you can go to many space museums and see and old spacecraft...

I would say that the other expendable craft is the one that will burn up upon reentry.... not designed to bring anything back...
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Old 03-28-2013, 01:30 AM   #18
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I don't have a dog in this hunt.... but I think that there is a disconnect on this discussion... and I think you are missing the middle ground...
Nope, though I see how it may look that way. I think perhaps I'm being misconstrued. I don't have a dog in this hunt either, except that I'm more pro space program (NASA and/or private) than many.
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